A rising star in arts publishing

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The Society of Illustrators 25th Annual of American Illustration: Illustrators 25, edited by Art Weiths. New York: Madison Square Press. Pages not numbered. $49.95. A short while ago Gerald McConnell was an award-winning illustrator and the world's champion volunteer. Today he is president of Madison Square Press, a small but growing publisher of art books. How this metamorphosis came about is an interesting example of the benefits of volunteerism. As a very active member of both the Society of Illustrators and the Graphic Artists Guild, Mr. McConnell planted the seeds of his present profession.

Mr. McConnell helped found the guild and served in several capacities, ultimately becoming its president for several years. He worked closely with Tad Crawford, a lawyer specializing in legal areas related to the arts and artists. Mr. Crawford now is a partner in Madison Square Press. The Graphic Artists Guild is a labor organization striving to better the lot of professional artists, particularly in the areas of copyright laws and working conditions. Mr. McConnell was intimately involved with many publications printed by the guild for its members and the field at large.

In addition, for more than 20 years he filled many posts, both menial and exalted, for the Society of Illustrators. Although he chose not to be president, he gave much time to behind-the-scenes tasks that have helped the society grow into a prestigious, active organization.

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Mr. McConnell has worked closely with the society's annual juried national exhibition of the best of American Illustration. Now in its 27th year, this exhibit is published each year in book form. Mr. McConnell became the liaison between the society and the original publisher, Hastings House. In that position he learned the basic publishing skills necessary to produce and distribute this book, which has always been a best seller.

It is astonishing that all of this unpaid activity was going on while Mr. McConnell was a successful free-lance illustrator. It is a tribute both to his energy and his generosity.

As Mr. McConnell developed contacts with printers, paper producers, and book distributers, he felt the society could benefit better financially if it became its own publisher. By reinvesting capital from previous annuals, the society -- under Mr. McConnell's guidance -- did accomplish this.

After achieving all he wished as artist, the last piece fell into place for McConnell. He and Tad Crawford had just completed the renovation of a building on 23rd Street and their publishing expertise now had a site in which to operate across the street from Madison Square Park. Signing contracts with the Society of Illustrators, the Graphic Artists Guild, and the American Society of Magazine Photographers, Madison Square Press became a viable entity.

Although Madison Square Press has a small staff, its operation is international in scope. Seeking quality and economy for his clients, Mr. McConnell has gone as far as Japan and Korea for his production and printing. A special color separation process used by Dia Nippon in Japan has made it economically feasible for the Society of Illustrators to print its entire annual in full color.

Two recent publications of Madison Square Press are ``The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980,'' a book recently reviewed in this column, and ``The Advertising Art of Norman Rockwell.''

While unassuming about his successes, Mr. McConnell is enthusiastic about his new publishing activity. The ultimate volunteer has become an entrepeneur. Risk is involved in all such ventures, but Mr. McConnell amiably continues to juggle supervising the production of books with trips to the Orient. Madison Square Press is a dot on the publishing horizon that this writer expects to become a force in the printing and distribution of art books.

Charles McVicker teaches art at Trenton State College.

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